In Pajara Valley, Calif., south of Santa Cruz, researcher Jill Denner launched a program that teaches low-income Latina girls and boys, in gender-segregated classrooms, to create their own computer games. Laura Reasoner Jones, a computer teacher at McNair Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va., launched the GEMS Club: Girls Excelling in Math and Science. The club is an afterschool program that gets girls busy building rockets, studying strawberry DNA, and programming their own computer games using free Web-based tools such as ALICE, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, and SCRATCH, developed by MIT.
Because recession-era budget cuts have made it difficult for many schools to direct resources to “extras” outside the core curriculum, some of the most successful efforts to direct girls toward computer programming are happening entirely outside of schools, though often in partnership with them. Jasmine Gao, 18, attended New York’s Brooklyn Technical High School, but it wasn’t until she participated in an afterschool program called the Technovation Challenge, hosted at Google’s New York headquarters, that she realized her interest in gaming could translate into a career.
Run by a nonprofit called Iridescent Learning, Technovation teaches teams of low-income girls programming and business skills by asking them to develop a real mobile Web app and then “pitch” it to a team of judges. Jasmine’s team developed “Trending,” an app that shows shoppers fashion trends and directs them to nearby stores or online retailers that carry a specific shoe or skirt. The team won second place in New York City. The winning effort was “HailNYC,” a girl-developed app that allows mobile phone users to communicate their location to taxi drivers.
Jasmine is now studying finance and computer information systems at Baruch College and hopes to someday launch her own tech business. “I had this preconception that it was mostly geeky men who did programming and it was extremely math and science heavy,” Jasmine said. “But it’s actually easy. And the opportunities presented through it are enormous.”